Canonization cause advances for married couple killed in Rwandan genocide

News: Saints

A married couple killed at the start of the 1994 Rwandan genocide is moving one step closer to canonization.

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The diocesan inquiry into the lives of Cyprien and Daphrose Rugumba concluded last week. If canonized, the couple will become the first Rwandans declared to be saints.

The couple is known for their humanitarian efforts and their work with the Emmanuel Community, which is promoting their story.

Cyprien studied at a Catholic seminary as a young man. However, he was scandalized by some of the behavior of the seminarians there and discouraged by encountering anti-Catholic philosophers. He left the seminary and fell away from the Catholic faith, going on to establish a successful career working for the Rwandan government to preserve traditional art. He became well known for his own artistic works, as a renowned poet and composer.

When Cyprien’s fiancée was killed in 1963, he asked to marry her cousin, Daphrose Mukansanga, to honor his engagement to her family.

For nearly 20 years, Cyprien and Daphrose had a difficult marriage. Daphrose was a devout Catholic with a deep devotion to prayer and charitable works. She raised their 10 children in the Catholic faith and prayed regularly for Cyprien’s conversion, even as he mocked her faith and was repeatedly unfaithful to her.

In 1982, Cyprien became gravely ill with a sickness that doctors were unable to diagnose. Believing he was on the verge of death, Cyprien underwent a radical conversion, which he attributed to Daphrose’s prayers for him. He recovered from his illness, and committed himself to a renewed life in Christ, becoming a devoted husband and man of service.

In 1989, the couple encountered the Emmanuel Community, an international Catholic organization rooted in adoration, charity, and evangelization. They founded a chapter of the Emmanuel Community in Rwanda in 1990, which is today the second largest chapter of the organization worldwide.

As ethnic tensions between the majority Hutus and minority Tutsis grew in Rwanda in the early 1990s, Cyprien spoke out against the growing calls for violence. He emphasized the need for unity in Christ, saying, “We have only one party, that of Jesus.”

On April 7, 1994, the volatile situation in Rwanda erupted into a three-month genocide, during which an estimated 1 million Tutsis were killed.

Cyprien’s outspoken denunciations of the calls for violence had placed his family on an assassination list. Cyprien and Daphne were murdered on April 7 - the first day of the genocide - in their home, along with six of their children. They had spent the previous night in Eucharistic Adoration.

The couple’s canonization cause was opened Sept. 18, 2015, by Archbishop Thaddée Ntihinyurwa of Kigali.

The first stage in that process, the diocesan inquiry, involves collecting documents and testimonies about the life and death of the person in question. Once the appropriate documentation is compiled, it is sent to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints, where the canonization cause continues.